By Gerhard Schneibel

The Sandy Springs City Council met with members of the Planning Commission and Design Review Board on March 3 to discuss the city’s decision-making processes, the roles of the individual boards and the purpose of the comprehensive land-use plan.

Members of the Board of Zoning Appeals, which recently delayed a council-backed decision to install sidewalks near Lake Forest Elementary School, were not present.

The meeting March 3 came after the council in recent months approved several use permits that appeared to conflict with the comprehensive plan.

As chairman, Lee Duncan said, his “sole agenda is to align the efforts of the Planning Commission with the intent of the City Council.”

Council members, however, said they want an independent assessment of zoning applications and architectural designs.

Mayor Eva Galambos denied a charge by Planning Commission member Wayne Thatcher that the council makes zoning decisions on the “basis of political votes.”

“We can be sued by a developer if we are being capricious,” she said. “If they meet the minimum standards, and we say, ‘Well, we don’t like it,’ then we are in danger of being sued.”

The City Council voted Feb. 17 to approve a mixed-use development on Hammond Drive despite the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the application.

Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul said: “I can’t waste taxpayer money on lawsuits … and then give the developer a blank check.”

Colin Lichtenstein, the chairman of the Design Review Board, said he is grappling with the concept of a unified look for the city. But Galambos said some standards go too far.

Design Review Board member Andy Porter said the city should decide on a set of rules and strictly adhere to them. Doing so would initially be more difficult but would protect property values in the long term, he said. “Let the market deal with it, and the market will.”

City Attorney Wendell Willard said the best way to facilitate communication among the bodies is through the city staff.